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Roger M. Wakimoto, Zachary Wienhoff, Howard B. Bluestein, and Dylan Reif

Abstract

Polarimetric measurements recorded by a mobile X-band radar are combined with photographs of the Dodge City, Kansas, tornado to quantitatively document the evolving debris cloud. An inner annulus or tube of high radar reflectivity encircled the tornado at low levels. A column of low cross-correlation coefficient ρ hv was centered on the funnel cloud during the early stage of the tornado’s life cycle. In addition, two areas of low ρ hv were located near the inner annulus of high radar reflectivity and were hypothesized to be regions of high debris loading that have been reproduced in simulations of lofted debris. Another column of low ρ hv was a result of strong wind speeds that were progressively lofting small debris and dust as inflow rotated around and within the weak echo notch of the hook echo. A column of negative differential reflectivity Z DR was also centered on the tornado and was hypothesized to result from common debris alignment. The polarimetric structure undergoes a dramatic transition when the debris cloud was prominent and enveloped most of the funnel cloud. The weak echo column (WEC) began to fill at lower levels as large amounts of debris were lofted into the circulation. The axis of minimum ρ hv shifted to a radius just beyond the funnel cloud. A column of positive Z DR was collocated with the funnel surrounded by negative Z DR. The negative Z DR and low ρ hv within the debris cloud were likely the result of some common debris alignment from wheat stems. The positive Z DR within the funnel signified the presence of a few hydrometeors.

Open access
Dylan W. Reif, Howard B. Bluestein, Tammy M. Weckwerth, Zachary B. Wienhoff, and Manda B. Chasteen

Abstract

The maximum upward vertical velocity at the leading edge of a density current is commonly <10 m s−1. Studies of the vertical velocity, however, are relatively few, in part owing to the dearth of high-spatiotemporal-resolution observations. During the Plains Elevated Convection At Night (PECAN) field project, a mobile Doppler lidar measured a maximum vertical velocity of 13 m s−1 at the leading edge of a density current created by a mesoscale convective system during the night of 15 July 2015. Two other vertically pointing instruments recorded 8 m s−1 vertical velocities at the leading edge of the density current on the same night. This study describes the structure of the density current and attempts to estimate the maximum vertical velocity at their leading edges using the following properties: the density current depth, the slope of its head, and its perturbation potential temperature. The method is then be applied to estimate the maximum vertical velocity at the leading edge of density currents using idealized numerical simulations conducted in neutral and stable atmospheres with resting base states and in neutral and stable atmospheres with vertical wind shear. After testing this method on idealized simulations, this method is then used to estimate the vertical velocity at the leading edge of density currents documented in several previous studies. It was found that the maximum vertical velocity can be estimated to within 10%–15% of the observed or simulated maximum vertical velocity and indirectly accounts for parameters including environmental wind shear and static stability.

Free access
Jeffrey C. Snyder, Howard B. Bluestein, Zachary B. Wienhoff, Charles M. Kuster, and Dylan W. Reif

Abstract

Tornadic supercells moved across parts of Oklahoma on the afternoon and evening of 9 May 2016. One such supercell, while producing a long-lived tornado, was observed by nearby WSR-88D radars to contain a strong anticyclonic velocity couplet on the lowest elevation angle. This couplet was located in a very atypical position relative to the ongoing cyclonic tornado and to the supercell’s updraft. A storm survey team identified damage near where this couplet occurred, and, in the absence of evidence refuting otherwise, the damage was thought to have been produced by an anticyclonic tornado. However, such a tornado was not seen in near-ground, high-resolution radar data from a much closer, rapid-scan, mobile radar. Rather, an elongated velocity couplet was observed only at higher elevation angles at altitudes similar to those at which the WSR-88D radars observed the strong couplet. This paper examines observations from two WSR-88D radars and a mobile radar from which it is argued that the anticyclonic couplet (and a similar one ~10 min later) were actually quasi-horizontal vortices centered ~1–1.5 km AGL. The benefits of having data from a radar much closer to the convective storm being sampled (e.g., better spatial resolution and near-ground data coverage) and providing more rapid volume updates are readily apparent. An analysis of these additional radar data provides strong, but not irrefutable, evidence that the anticyclonic tornado that may be inferred from WSR-88D data did not exist; consequently, upon discussions with the National Weather Service, it was not included in Storm Data.

Free access
Yu-Chieng Liou, Howard B. Bluestein, Michael M. French, and Zachary B. Wienhoff

Abstract

A three-dimensional data assimilation (3DVar) least squares–type single-Doppler velocity retrieval (SDVR) algorithm is utilized to retrieve the wind field of a tornadic supercell using data collected by a mobile, phased-array, Doppler radar [Mobile Weather Radar (MWR) 05XP] with very high temporal resolution (6 s). It is found that the cyclonic circulation in the hook-echo region can be successfully recovered by the SDVR algorithm. The quality of the SDVR analyses is evaluated by dual-Doppler syntheses using data collected by two mobile Doppler radars [Doppler on Wheels 6 and 7 (DOW6 and DOW7, respectively)]. A comparison between the SDVR analyses and dual-Doppler syntheses confirms the conclusion reached by an earlier theoretical analysis that because of the temporally discrete nature of the radar data, the wind speed retrieved by single-Doppler radar is always underestimated, and this underestimate occurs more significantly for the azimuthal (crossbeam) wind component than for the radial (along beam) component. However, the underestimate can be mitigated by increasing the radar data temporal resolution. When the radar data are collected at a sufficiently high rate, the azimuthal wind component may be overestimated. Even with data from a rapid scan, phased-array, Doppler radar, our study indicates that it is still necessary to calculate the SDVR in an optimal moving frame of reference. Finally, the SDVR algorithm’s robustness is demonstrated. Even with a temporal resolution (2 min) much lower than that of the phased-array radar, the cyclonic flow structure in the hook-echo region can still be retrieved through SDVR using data observed by DOW6 or DOW7, although a difference in the retrieved fields does exist. A further analysis indicates that this difference is caused by the location of the radars.

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Howard B. Bluestein, Daniel T. Lindsey, Daniel Bikos, Dylan W. Reif, and Zachary B. Wienhoff

Abstract

This is a study of a tornadic supercell in Kansas on 14 May 2018 in which data of relatively high spatiotemporal resolution from a mobile, polarimetric, X-band, Doppler radar were integrated with GOES-16 geosynchronous satellite imagery, and with fixed-site, surveillance, S-band polarimetric Doppler radar data. The data-collection period spanned the early life of the storm from when it was just a series of ordinary cells, with relatively low cloud tops, through its evolution into a supercell with much higher cloud tops, continuing through the formation and dissipation of a brief tornado, and ending after the supercell came to a stop and reversed direction, produced another tornado, and collided with a quasi-linear convective system. The main goal of this study was to examine the relationship between the overshooting tops and radar observed features prior to and during tornadogenesis. The highest radar echo top was displaced about 10 km, mainly to the north or northeast of the main updraft and cloud top, from the supercell phase through the first tornado phase of the supercell phase, after which the updraft and the cloud top became more closely located and then jumped ahead; this behavior is consistent with what would be expected during cyclic mesocyclogenesis. The change in direction of the supercell later on occurred while the nocturnal low-level jet was intensifying. No relationship was apparent between changes in the highest cloud-top height and tornadogenesis, but changes in cloud-top heights (rapid increases and rapid decreases) were related to two phases in multicell evolution and to supercell formation.

Free access
Roger M. Wakimoto, Zachary Wienhoff, Howard B. Bluestein, David J. Bodine, and James M. Kurdzo

Abstract

A detailed damage survey is combined with high-resolution mobile, rapid-scanning X-band polarimetric radar data collected on the Shawnee, Oklahoma, tornado of 19 May 2013. The focus of this study is the radar data collected during a period when the tornado was producing damage rated EF3. Vertical profiles of mobile radar data, centered on the tornado, revealed that the radar reflectivity was approximately uniform with height and increased in magnitude as more debris was lofted. There was a large decrease in both the cross-correlation coefficient (ρ hv) and differential radar reflectivity (Z DR) immediately after the tornado exited the damaged area rated EF3. Low ρ hv and Z DR occurred near the surface where debris loading was the greatest. The 10th percentile of ρ hv decreased markedly after large amounts of debris were lofted after the tornado leveled a number of structures. Subsequently, ρ hv quickly recovered to higher values. This recovery suggests that the largest debris had been centrifuged or fallen out whereas light debris remained or continued to be lofted. Range–height profiles of the dual-Doppler analyses that were azimuthally averaged around the tornado revealed a zone of maximum radial convergence at a smaller radius relative to the leading edge of lofted debris. Low-level inflow into the tornado encountering a positive bias in the tornado-relative radial velocities could explain the existence of the zone. The vertical structure of the convergence zone was shown for the first time.

Open access
Jana Lesak Houser, Howard B. Bluestein, Kyle Thiem, Jeffrey Snyder, Dylan Reif, and Zachary Wienhoff

Abstract

This study builds upon recent rapid-scan radar observations of mesocyclonic tornadogenesis in supercells by investigating the formation of seven tornadoes (four from a single cyclic supercell), most of which include samples at heights < 100 m above radar level. The spatiotemporal evolution of the tornadic vortex signatures (TVSs), maximum velocity differentials across the vortex couplet, and pseudovorticity are analyzed. In general, the tornadoes formed following a non-descending pattern of evolution, although one case was descending over time scales O(<60) s and the evolution of another case was dependent upon the criteria used to define a tornado, and may have been associated with a rapidly occurring top-down process. Thus, it was determined that the vertical sense of evolution of a tornado can be sensitive to the criteria employed to define a TVS. Furthermore, multiple instances were found in which TVSs terminated at heights below 1.5 km, although vertical sampling above this height was often limited.

Significance Statement

It is generally well understood that tornadoes form over short time scales [i.e., O(∼60) s]. Despite this fact, detailed scientific measurements of tornado evolution during and just prior to genesis remains limited, particularly very near the ground and on time and space scales sufficient to observe tornado processes. Multiple recent studies have supported a non-descending evolution of rotation in supercell tornadoes, but the small number of analyzed cases is still insufficient for generalization. This study investigates seven new cases of tornadogenesis using high spatiotemporal resolution radar data that include near-ground level observations to examine the evolution of rotation with time and height. For the time scales observable by the radar platform [i.e., O(∼30) s], genesis occurred predominately following a non-descending manner in five out of the seven tornadoes studied, while the vertical evolution of two tornadoes were sensitive to the criterion used to define a “tornadic” vortex signature.

Open access
Roger M. Wakimoto, Zachary Wienhoff, Dylan Reif, Howard B. Bluestein, and David C. Lewellen

Abstract

Mobile, polarimetric radar data were collected on a series of tornadoes that occurred near Dodge City, Kansas. A poststorm survey revealed a series of tornadic debris swaths in several dirt fields and high-resolution pictures of the tornado documented the visual characteristics of the tornado and the lofted debris cloud. The main rotational couplet associated with the tornado was identified in the single-Doppler velocities; however, no secondary rotational couplets were resolved in the low-level data performed during two consecutive volume scans. Numerical simulations have suggested that cycloidal damage swaths can result when debris is deposited as the low-level inflow turns upward in the corner region of the updraft annulus of the tornado core. This mechanism can dominate even when suction vortices are present in the simulations and can produce these swaths in the absence of these smaller-scale vortices. It is hypothesized that the observed cycloidal damage swaths were a result of the low-level inflow in the corner region of the tornado and not by the existence of suction vortices. Polarimetric data were combined with photographs of the tornado in order to document the lofted debris cloud and its relationship with the funnel. This analysis provided an opportunity to investigate whether recent findings describing the cross-correlation coefficient ρ hv and differential reflectivity Z DR signatures of the lofted debris cloud could be replicated. Regions of low ρ hv at the periphery of the funnel cloud suggesting high debris loading and a column of negative Z DR centered on the tornado believed to be produced by common debris alignment were noted.

Significance Statement

It is well known that some tornadoes produce smaller-scale vortices that rotate around the central axis of the main circulation. In addition, numerous aerial photographs have documented cycloidal debris marks within tornado damage tracks that traverse open fields. The prevailing theory shown in numerous textbooks is that these marks are produced by these vortices. The current study suggests that this widely accepted model for producing these marks may be incorrect. It is suggested that these cycloidal marks are produced by the main tornado circulation and not by the smaller-scale vortices in this case.

Open access
Zachary B. Wienhoff, Howard B. Bluestein, Dylan W. Reif, Roger M. Wakimoto, Louis J. Wicker, and James M. Kurdzo

Abstract

On 24 May 2016, a supercell that produced 13 tornadoes near Dodge City, Kansas, was documented by a rapid-scanning, X-band, polarimetric, Doppler radar (RaXPol). The anomalous nature of this storm, particularly the significant deviations in storm motion from the mean flow and number of tornadoes produced, is examined and discussed. RaXPol observed nine tornadoes with peak radar-derived intensities (ΔV max) and durations ranging from weak (~60 m s−1) and short lived (<30 s) to intense (>150 m s−1) and long lived (>25 min). This case builds on previous studies of tornado debris signature (TDS) evolution with continuous near-surface sampling of multiple strong tornadoes. The TDS sizes increased as the tornadoes intensified but lacked direct correspondence to tornado intensity otherwise. The most significant growth of the TDS in both cases was linked to two substantial rear-flank-downdraft surges and subsequent debris ejections, resulting in growth of the TDSs to more than 3 times their original sizes. The TDS was also observed to continue its growth as the tornadoes decayed and lofted debris fell back to the surface. The TDS size and polarimetric composition were also found to correspond closely to the underlying surface cover, which resulted in reductions in Z DR in wheat fields and growth of the TDS in terraced dirt fields as a result of ground scouring. TDS growth with respect to tornado vortex tilt is also discussed.

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Howard B. Bluestein, Zachary B. Wienhoff, David D. Turner, Dylan W. Reif, Jeffrey C. Snyder, Kyle J. Thiem, and Jana B. Houser

Abstract

The objectives of this study are to determine the finescale characteristics of the wind and temperature fields associated with a prefrontal wind-shift line and to contrast them with those associated with a strong cold front. Data from a mobile, polarimetric, X-band, Doppler radar and from a surveillance S-band radar, temperature profiles retrieved from a thermodynamic sounder, and surface observations from the Oklahoma Mesonet are used to analyze a prefrontal wind-shift line in Oklahoma on 11 November 2013. Data from the same mobile radar and the Oklahoma Mesonet are used to identify the finescale characteristics of the wind field associated with a strong surface cold front in Oklahoma on 9 April 2013. It is shown that the prefrontal wind-shift line has a kinematic and thermodynamic structure similar to that of an intrusion (elevated density current), while the cold front has a kinematic structure similar to that of a classic density current. Other characteristics of the prefrontal wind-shift line and front are also discussed. Evidence of waves generated at the leading edge of the prefrontal wind-shift line is presented.

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